How to Properly Address an Envelope: Tips and Etiquette

Ever been unsure of when to use Ms. or Mrs., or how to include professional titles? Consider this your ultimate etiquette guide.

We may live in an increasingly digital world, but there are certain things that should always be done the "old-fashioned way," if you ask us—one being sending formal (as well as informal) correspondence in the mail. If sending handwritten thank-you notes, holiday cards, and wedding invitations in the mail are traditions you intend to continue, it's important to make sure you're adhering to proper etiquette guidelines each step of the way, especially if you've gotten out of the habit.

Once you've written that lovely thank-you note on your personal stationery or picked up your party invitations from the printer, the next step is addressing envelopes. It may seem straightforward, but when it comes to addressing people by name—whether they're friends or barely acquaintances—it can be a sensitive subject. It's also an important logistical one: After all, the names on the envelope inform the recipients whom the invitation, thank-you, or gift inside is intended for. You don't want to unintentionally exclude (or include) anyone.

WATCH: How to Address Wedding Invitations

Thankfully, there are some tried-and-true rules and etiquette guidelines that are easy to follow. Here, we've rounded up all the intricacies of envelope-addressing in this go-to etiquette resource for getting it right every time.

Using Abbreviations

For formal correspondence, use the recipients' full names (Rebecca vs. Becca), including their middle name if you know it. Don't use any initials or abbreviations in names or street addresses (Avenue vs. Ave. or Apartment vs. Apt.). For less formal correspondence (personal thank-you notes, holiday cards, etc.), using informal names (if that's what the person goes by) and abbreviations is certainly acceptable.

Using the Right Titles

This can be one of the trickiest parts of addressing envelopes because there are so many options and variables. (Note: For informal notes to close friends and family, omitting titles is okay, but it's never wrong to add them if you're unsure.) If you're working on formal wedding invitations, check out our thorough guide here. We've included the general rules below.

Addressing Women

  • Girls under 18 should be Miss (Miss Rachel Harris).
  • Single women over 18 or married women who use their maiden name should be Ms. (Ms. Anna Smith).
  • Addressing divorced and separated women with the correct title can be tricky, but Ms. is usually the safest option if you're unsure of their preference. If they've returned to their maiden name, Ms. is definitely correct. When using Ms., don't use the husband's first name (Ms. Anna Smith (maiden name) or Ms. Anna Jones (married name)).
  • For widowed women, the above rule also applies, but it's most traditional to use Mrs. and her late husband's first and last names (Mrs. Henry Jones).
  • If addressing a married woman who uses her husband's last name (but his name is not included on the envelope), it's traditional to use Mrs. followed by her husband's first name, but using her first name is also correct and may feel more appropriate depending on the scenario (Mrs. Henry Jones or Mrs. Anna Jones).

Addressing Couples

  • Married couples who both use the husband's last name should be Mr. and Mrs. followed by his first and last name (Mr. and Mrs. Henry Jones).
  • Married couples who use different last names should use Ms. and Mr. with full names, joined by "and" (Ms. Anna Smith and Mr. Henry Jones), however, the order is not strict.
  • Unmarried couples and same-gender couples who live together should follow the above rule as well. In all instances, if both names cannot fit on one line, write them on two separate lines without the "and" (whomever you're closer to can be listed first, or it's common to list same-gender couples alphabetically by last name). (Ms. Emily Wood and Mr. George Swan or Ms. Nancy Hall (followed on the next line:) Ms. Elizabeth Sams).

Addressing Families

For invitations, it's important to be explicit about what members of a household are invited via the names on the envelope (especially when it comes to children and weddings).

  • Any children under 18 should be listed on the line below their parents' names, in age order, without titles or last names (Mr. and Mrs. Henry Jones (followed on the next line:) Emma, James, and Stephen).
  • For less formal correspondence intended for the whole family, the above method is perfectly fine, or you can address the family as a whole using the father's first and last name (The Henry Jones Family).
  • A helpful reminder for making last names plural: You shouldn't address a family this way, but you may use it in the return address on your envelope (or certainly when signing your holiday card). Simply add s or -es to the last name—don't add any apostrophes!

Using Professional Titles

For doctors, judges, members of the clergy, or military officers, titles should be included when addressing both formal and informal correspondence to the best of your knowledge.

  • For couples, whoever has the higher ranking title should be listed first (The Honorable Anna Jones and Mr. Henry Jones).
  • If both have the same title and share a last name, most titles can be made plural (The Doctors Jones or Drs. Anna and Henry Jones).
  • If both have different titles or the same title but different last names, distinguish each full name with a relevant title, joined by "and" (The Reverend Henry Jones and Dr. Anna Jones or Dr. Henry Jones and Dr. Anna Smith).

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do you address a married couple without Mr. and Mrs.?

    When addressing a couple, use their names joined by "and" or an ampersand on the same line. Use this format even if the married couple does not share the same last name or if you are addressing a couple who share the same address but are not married.

  • Whose name appears first when signing a card?

    Conventional etiquette for signing cards is the man's name first, followed by the woman's and the children's names from oldest to youngest. However, placing the woman's name first is also acceptable if the woman is closer to the recipient.

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